Several Brookfield residents are asking the future Ruby Farms site developer to preserve the agricultural buildings on the 66-acre site.
Commercial real estate firm Irgens purchased the property, which sits along Calhoun Road between Interstate-94 and Bluemound Road, for $10.17 million Sept. 26. It plans a mixed-use development that could include offices, retail and residences.
At a meeting of the Concerned Calhoun Community group Oct. 2, about 40 people gathered at Swanson Elementary School to discuss the proposal. Most signed a letter to the developer requesting the preservation efforts.
"Development has to happen, but we're hoping it can be done with a salute to history," Laurel Mellone, secretary of the community group, said.
Irgens has not yet provided the city with its development plans, which will be subject to public hearings and approval from the Common Council.
The Concerned Calhoun group hopes Irgens will retain some of the historical buildings, which include a farmhouse, barns, a granary, a milk-processing facility and other outbuildings built in the mid-1800s.
"This should be the cornerstone of your development," the group's letter reads. "How many other developments can boast of a gem like this nestled within its borders?"
The Ruby Farms property has been deemed potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places by the Wisconsin Historical Society due to its Greek Revival architecture. In 2005, the farm was named one of the state's 10 most endangered historic properties by the Wisconsin Trust for Historic Preservation.
Alderwoman Renee Lowerr also signed the letter to Irgens. She said she knew the property's previous owner, Rolland Ruby, when he used it to train horses.
"He showed me his horses and you would have thought he was showing me diamonds, that's how proud he was of them," she said. "It was an important part of our community."
Residents also had some concerns about the height of new buildings and the potential for traffic and increased activity in the area once development occurs, but many said they were resigned to the decision to develop the area commercially.
Dan Ertl, director of community development, said the city's master plan calls for commercial development there but also values preserving the farmstead because of its history.
"As to what gets saved and how it gets saved, that's to be determined," he said.
Pat Sullivan, who has lived in Brookfield for about 40 years, said he hopes there can be some compromise to preserve some of the history and residential feel of the neighborhood.
"The developer wants the development, the city wants the development and the people here would mostly like for things to stay pretty much the same," Sullivan said. "It's going to be developed, but we just want to do anything we can to protect the quality of living here."
No plans yet
The Ruby Farms property is zoned for mixed uses. Irgens President Mark Irgens told the Business Journal in May that the company was considering building three or four high-end offices there to create a corporate headquarters, as well as building some housing and retail spaces.
Irgens spokesman Eric Nelson said the company does not have any specific plans to report yet. In a statement, Mark Irgens recognized the need to hear from the community as the development moves forward.
"There is a lot of work to do in working with all stakeholders in creating a high-quality development," Irgens said in the statement. "With its location, connectivity to the region, high-quality design concept and incorporation of sustainability initiatives throughout the development, we believe the project positions Brookfield as a lead competitor for the region's next corporate headquarters, new retailers and beyond."
Ertl said office developments would fit well with the other businesses on Bluemound Road, which borders the property to the north.
"That's our last remaining major parcel in the Bluemound Road corridor," Ertl said.
Although the office market is soft now, Ertl said he expects it will be better down the road.
"We don't make development decisions based on the next 12 months," he said. "We look at the long haul and eventually the job growth and office market will rebound, and it would add to the economic base of our business corridor that exists there today."
Ertl said the city is waiting for Irgens to submit a detailed plan for the area to the Plan Commission, which will make sure the development fits the master plan, then send it to public hearings and the Common Council for any necessary zoning changes.
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